Honest Comparisons

It’s amazing how often I feel that I am not sick enough to complain. What is it that is so deeply ingrained into my being that I think I have to be on my death bed to have any kind of right to be sad? To be disappointed? To feel cheated?

I work a full time job, so I mustn’t really be sick. I still go out in the weekends so I can’t be that tired. I smile every day so I can’t be in that much pain. It seems strange that I can live in my broken, chronically ill body and still feel doubt about the legitimacy of my illness. It’s no wonder those who haven’t experienced it have doubts.

We spend our whole lives comparing ourselves to others, hell we even compare others to others. Only, the others that we are comparing everyone to, they don’t even really exist. They’re a figment of our imagination. Some kind of “perfect” that we plucked out of the sky and decided on. It’s different for each of us, but it achieves the same goal. We will never be enough, and neither will anyone else.

Not only do we compare ourselves to others, but we take on board everything we hear. Even those things that we know to be incorrect can infiltrate our seemingly tight bubble of knowledge, bringing in self-doubt and causing us to question our very beliefs. I question my own illness because of a combination of these things. I’ve heard others question my illness, and I understand where they are coming from. Then I compare myself to others who feel more pain, more fatigue, more sick than I do and I decide the skeptics must be right. I must be making this up. Obviously I am just dramatic and need to harden up.

And then my heart begins to throb and I bend over in agony, frozen in the pain, so frozen I am unable to call for help. In so much pain all I can do is collapse to the floor and clutch at my chest, willing for it to be over. That’s when I remember I’m not lying, I didn’t make any of this up and I’m certainly not just being dramatic.

Comparing ourselves to our fictional perfect plays on our desires in a way nothing else can. It affects our views and our behaviours, and depending on our personality type can evoke both negative and positive reactions in us. I’m a realist, leaning more towards the negative side than the positive one so I often find my comparisons causing self-doubt and making me question everything. At the moment I’m making a conscious effort to use comparisons in a positive way, turning what may have otherwise become a moment of negative comparison into a moment of self-awareness and learning (sounds cheesy… I know).

When having 'good' days means you mustn't be sick
Samye – A monastery I visited in Tibet

A few days ago I was in a lot of pain. I have no sick leave left at work and things are a little chaotic at the moment so taking the day off simply wasn’t an option. Instead I dragged myself to work, my head throbbing and my legs weighing something equivalent to large boulder (or fifty).

I’m not sure what started it, perhaps they noticed something, or perhaps they were just making conversation, but a colleague of mine brought something up that lead the conversation in the direction of my illness. As I am regularly when faced with the prospect of conversations about chronic fatigue, I was forced to make a decision, and I needed to do so very quickly.

Option 1:
I could admit to and be open out the pain I’m in, the fatigue I feel and all of those other gross symptoms that I go through every day. Those who care will appreciate the honesty, I’ll feel better that I don’t have to hide it (even if I completely lose it emotionally while trying to explain) and at the end of the day, those who don’t like it simply don’t matter.

Option 2:
The more common choice, my go to. The place I feel safe. Alone. Hiding in the dark convincing myself the pain isn’t bad enough to ask for help. Comparing myself to the 1000’s of people who have it worse. Even comparing myself to past me, when I too felt worse than I do now, as if that somehow means this current pain isn’t really pain.

I went with option 1. I struggled. It’s hard to tell someone what’s really going on when you know you “look” perfectly fine. But I did it. I didn’t break down, I didn’t lose my nerve half way through and make it sound less than it is. I just told her the truth.

And you know what? They listened. They sat, and they listened, and they asked questions because, get this, they ACTUALLY CARED. They didn’t think I was lying, they didn’t think I should “harden up” and they are grateful that I told them. Because now they know. And next time I take an unexpected sick day from work they won’t be one of the ones joking about my day off in the sun or approaching with their arm over their mouth pretending they think I’m contagious. Because now they know. They may not understand, how could you if you haven’t felt it? But now they know.

I have a long way to go before I fully accept my illness, and an even longer way to go before I stop doubting myself and hiding things away from others. But I’ve started on the track, and so far, I’m feeling pretty damned good about it.

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